UX Magazine

Defining and Informing the Complex Field of User Experience (UX)
Article No. 9 December 15, 2005

Your Business Brickyard

When I arrived at college over 18 years ago, the football team was closing in on dubious a national record… For the most consecutive losses.

The brickyard was a practice drill where the receivers tossed an old red brick back and forth to each other.

But as this year began they had a new, no nonsense, coach that pressed the importance of executing the basics perfectly. Lo and behold they won their first 3 games of the season. While they were against lesser level opponents, a win was a win. But, by the 4th game of the season, they started to believe their hype a little TOO much as they quickly started to forget about the fundamentals that had powered their victories. The receivers dropped and fumbled passes, tried all kinds of extra fancy moves and generally did everything except catch the ball. And the team stumbled to a disappointing loss.

When a reporter asked the coach what he was going to do in response to the loss, he said he was “sending his receivers back to the brickyard.”

The “brickyard” was a practice drill where the receivers stood 20 feet apart and tossed an old red brick back and forth to each other. The concept is a simple one… If you didn’t pay close attention to ONLY the very basic skills of catching a brick, it would hurt… A LOT.

No fancy moves, no flying catches, just catching a brick. Over 18 years ago and I still remember that story.

Why after over 18 years working in all aspects of business does this story keep popping up in my head? I come across so many companies that get caught up with all kinds of fancy programs, initiatives, visions of grandeur, etc… that they often have forgotten the simple things that consistently generate cash for the business and make sure the critical brick foundation; meaning its customers, innovation and profit. are always protected.

Now, I love the web, web design, marketing and using technology to do things better. To me, there is nothing better than a breakthrough idea. But, answering phones really well, calling people back when you say you will, responding to emails promptly and actively listening to exactly what your customers really want, has to always come first.

So, What’s your businesses brickyard? It’s a serious question. One worth uncovering.

Your BUSINESS brickyard is the fundamental moves of your business that deliver your service, take care of your clients, allow you to listen to what your clients and staff are REALLY telling you, gets you paid timely and makes sure you can pay your bills timely.

So for this little manifesto: let’s focus on the first 5 bricks that should be part of any businesses brickyard.

Brickyard Brick #1: All Truth is in the cash account.

With the low cost of borrowing money and the allure of each new business idea that seemingly can’t miss, it is all too easy for a business to quickly find itself earning less than it is spending.

About 8 years ago I owned a fairly sizable freight and logistics company that was in an industry that was rapidly consolidating. It was not long before we began to lose money a few months at a time. Now, here is the part that may sound all too familiar… We always had at least one big prospect that was close to making a decision to use our services and a new office that just needed just a little more time to grow to profitability. We had competitors take business from us because, we thought, they had some technological advantage that we now had to build to compete. These rationalizations are almost always a trap that keeps you from dealing with the truth. A good friend and mentor quickly brought be back to the truth each time I got caught up in these common if only’s of running a business with this memorable phrase: “All Truth Is Found In The Cash Account.”

Harsh? Perhaps. There is, of course, more to business than the cash in the bank. But, the best way to stay in control of your business is to start by spending less than you take in.

Give that control away to banks, investors or anyone else and some of the purest aspects of owning your own business start slipping away.

There are plenty of people who will help you make finance a very fancy game and often like to say things like “You have to spend money to make money.“Here is a simple rule… If you want to reduce the stress of owning your business… spend at least $1.00 less than you earn. If you want to invest in your business, try a new strategy or be innovative, do it with the money you know you have and not on what you hope may be coming in. Never bet your company on any one idea.

When you get that new big client AND they pay the first invoice… you’ll see it in your cash account. Then they are truly a client. The best way to check yourself is always remind yourself that your cash account is the honest friend that will never lie.

Brickyard Brick #2 : Innovation Doesn’t Have To Be Sexy

The deeper you focus on your brickyard, the more valuable (and crucial) I believe you will find it to be in the sustained bottom line growth of your business.

I’ll admit it is not nearly as sexy a strategy as a new technology product, an incredibly creative marketing initiative, or that next million dollar idea, but don’t be fooled that focusing on your Brickyard doesn’t equal cash.

Consider this great example: in a recent Fortune Magazine article that profiled Dell Computers as one of the most admired companies on the world, the author questions Michael Dell about the perception that Dell is not an innovator (particularly vs. the deserved hype surrounding Apple and its latest innovations).

“I raise this question with Michael Dell and ask him why he even cares whether people think Dell innovates, “I don’t care as much as I used to,” he says. “It’s complete nonsense though. I mean, let’s see…

Our innovations: Business processes, supply chain, changing an industry, customer value totally different, change the whole cycle in which technology is brought to market – well, there may be a few innovations in there.”

Innovation is too closely linked to “cool” new products or services… the trendiest/edgiest thinking.

Continually and radically improving the basic moves you make as part of your average day of business is not only innovative but turns those Brickyard bricks into the gold versions.

Prove it to yourself. Take a look inside what you currently do every day and write down a list of ways you could do each of them with far greater efficiency than anyone else. What would it take so that when you described the process, someone said amazing? Better still, what could you do so that process/service excited your staff and delighted your clients? Put 1 or 2 of those into an action plan each quarter and see how innovative your company becomes in only 12 months.

Brickyard Brick #3: Every business owner has a “story”

I am not talking about telling your story or telling a story. When I say “story” I am talking about the lies and rationalizations we tell ourselves that prove ourselves right or wrong about things that happen to us in life. It is the filter that we run every experience through so they fit into the world as we want to see it.

The interesting fact about ones story, is that it typically is the result of years of old (and often incorrect) thinking and, therefore, makes the story false (or misleading at best). All too often, our stories simply serve to protect ourselves from some painful truth.

Following this accepted fact, every business has their own story too (How could it not? It is run and comprised of a whole bunch of people that each have a story). The reasons why they won or lost a piece of business. The reasons business is performing well or not. Why their competitors are not as good as they are. How you would do the job better if… How good your service/product is but the customer is not smart enough to see it. Story, story, story and story.

If you are honest with yourself, even in a private moment, you would see them as the excuses they often are.

What if you told yourself that you lost a piece of business because the competition IS really better than you? That you really didn’t pay proper attention to the personalized service you touted in your brochure? You simply got beat from someone who had something better to offer.

Would that be so bad? It doesn’t mean you have to close your doors or fire the staff. It does mean you have to find a different way. But you can’t start to change until you first lose your story.

Look, if your competitors were really as bumbling and awful as you are convinced they are. How is it that they are not only still in business, but beating you? If you were really right about your story you would have more business than you could handle. Do you?

Think of the last 3-5 clients you lost or prospects that chose your competitor over you. Write down the reasons you told yourself and/or everyone else why you lost.
Look for your “story.”

Now write down what the truth could be about each situation. It is a lot simpler to see how to take action from THAT list. No? Turn those actions into initiatives in your business and, just like the innovation exercise, real changes will occur in the culture and feel of your company. Unfiltered problems with a business are much easier to deal with than the ones that are stuck behind a story.

Brickyard brick #4: Losing Your Nemesis

I have been fiddling around with something I call my “Nemesis Theory” for a few years now. The more business owners I work with, the more it seems to be a key impediment to getting to their unique truths, creativity and power.

I believe that every business has at least 1 “Nemesis.” An arch-rival competitor, the company that stole a big client, stole a key member of your staff (or vice versa) or otherwise just consistently pisses you off in some way or another.

I think these phenomena date back to our earliest days in school. We all had a nemesis in school, friends who seem to have more while working less, etc... and those comparisons consumed a lot of time and always made us nuts!

While there are countless books written about competition, defeating your business enemy, David and Goliath theories, sales techniques, etc... The conclusion I keep coming back to: it is all a huge waste of time and energy.

Obsessing about your competitors, trying to match/best their offerings, spending time each day wanting to know what they are doing and/or measuring your company against them have no great or winning outcome. Instead, it simply prohibits your company from finding its own way to be truly meaningful to its clients, staff and prospects. It blocks a company from finding its own identity and engaging with the people that pay the bills. Put another way, “Keeping up with the Joneses“ never lets you enjoy your personal life. Why should it allow you to enjoy your work life.

The more work becomes about your competition and less about the customers who need your attention, the more owning your business will feel like an endless stress filled existence.

This is not “focus on your customers” theory disguised in different clothes... The focus for me is to try to find a more permanent path to help business owners get comfortable with a new way to break out of this fundamentally bad habit.

Here is a simple program for business owners to go through to break the cycle... Sort of a business lie intervention.

  • Step 1: Write down an exhaustive list of every thing you know about your competitors. What they do, the secrets you know, what the market should know, etc... Come on, get it all out.
  • Step 2: Take your list, find a very tall building, go to the roof and hurl the list off the roof.
  • Step 3: Now write a list of your best customers AND the members of your staff that really care about the future of your business.
  • Step 4: Call them all in a room together. GROUP HUG!

Next steps: Never stop learning about the people from Step 3 & 4. Block out real time every week to do it. Remember, you now have the time to do it since you no longer have to think about all of that crap from Step 1.

Brickyard Brick #5: Singles & Doubles

“Profitable growth is everyone’s business” a great book, written by management consulting guru Ram Charan, has a key section that gives a fitting name to the best business building strategy I know. It has become a mantra we continually preach to our clients and is at the core of what DIG is all about.

Focus on Hitting Singles and Doubles

The .com age and the stories that continue to get media coverage push the business community to focus way too much on the home run. Business owners will put their businesses in peril trying to find the Million/Billion dollar idea. Enormous time, energy and money are spent on this misdirected focus. Big, BIG mistake. How can you enjoy the every day of running your business if your success rests on the rare occurrence of “hitting a home run?”
As Mr. Charan so perfectly puts it:

Home runs don’t happen every day or even every decade.

A surer and more consistent path – one that does not exclude home runs – is what I call going for “singles and doubles,” growth based on improvements or natural extensions of the strategy, business model, customer needs, or technology of a business. Singles and doubles come from disciplined, creative and innovative in-depth analysis of all the fundamentals of a business, including new ways of identifying under met or unmet customer needs and meeting them through improved internal alignment of the company.

Singles and doubles do not come from a look in the rear-view mirror. Rather, they are a result of looking at the business from the outside-in, from customer needs backward into the company. In fact, they form the foundation for the home run.”

As we always say here at DIG: we aim to utterly eliminate whatever it is that hinders your right as a business owner to enjoy your position properly. Life is short.

The amount of stress you endure ever day you own your business is your choice. Stress comes from a loss of power and control. Having the patience to hit “Singles & Doubles” dramatically changes your ability to be in better control of the future of your business and enjoy the ride. The more you focus on it, ironically, the better your odds become of one of them turning into a home run by its own momentum.

Spend some time focusing in on just these 5 concepts. You will find that although these seem so basic (like the simple essence of catching a football) the results will empower you. If you stay true to them, they turn into more wins than losses. Allowing you to enjoy the rest of the journey.

By the way: my college football team that spent all that time after their loss catching bricks. They, of course, won the next week.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)

User Profile

Howard Mann is the founder of Brickyard Partners, a business strategy agency based in Portland, OR. Prior to founding Brickyard Partners in 2001, Mann owned a premier international logistics company with over 140 Million in revenue, six U.S. offices and a global network of over 40 agents worldwide.

As that business came under severe pressure from the previous economic downturn and industry consolidation, Howard lead the company out from those treacherous times by returning to the basics that make every business great and completing 6 acquisitions that re-imagined the business so it was highly attractive to buyers. Finding that “secret sauce” did not come easily but has fueled his purpose to help other business leaders to never have to go through what he endured. 

Through real world experience and those hard times in the “trenches” of business he has learned that it is not following the latest fad, copying competitors or adding complexity that makes a business truly great. His pragmatic approach and knowing what it feels like to sit in the CEO/Owner chair is what makes his work so different and effective.

In addition to his strategy, marketing and communications work, Mann coaches a select group of entrepreneurs, CEO's and business owners. His highly focused workshops and keynotes help executive teams take aggressive action to unlock the true potential of their organizations and build remarkable businesses that endure. In good times and bad. Online and off.

Howard is a sought after speaker both in the U.S. and around the world. He writes frequently on his blog about the importance of the basics and reconnecting to the passion that too often gets lost as businesses mature.

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Comments

13
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This handbag is so unique, andreplica handbags
replica bags I never see it’s sold in the stores, where did you get this one please?

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Excelent article. This comes at a point in my own enterprise – one man interactive designer – is requiring a major shift in focus and consolidation of services e.g. focus on the core business characteristics and renewed emphasis on valuing the customer. Thank you very much for such a timely offering.

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Thanks Dwaynne for the feedback and I am glad the article was helpful.

There is no substitute for delivering all the basics of your business perfectly.

12
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Great article, keep it coming!

12
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Good stuff, an enlightening look at the often overlooked!

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Your nemesis theory (page 5) is right in line with what I was concluding about some practices I saw clients doing. They would too often be caught up with solely comparing themselves with the competition when it came to creating an online solution – “oh, we should have that thingy on our site too”. This meant that their online efforts were only ever going to be ‘as good as’ and never really ‘better than’. I would refocus them and talk about meeting their clients needs. The point being that if they focused solely on their customers they would by default be better than their competition. Inevitably though, this lead to new ideas and creative techniques that would mean the company was going into the unknown. Copying their competition’s ideas though, gave the illusion that what they were already proven and it was a more ‘sure’ business practice – which is a flawed assumption and is a thin line to copyright breaches!
Thanks for a great article which talks about this very important impediment which so many end up being trapped by.
I’m also glad there is someone out there preaching a happy life over chasing fairytales!

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Great article. I believe that a good customer support team and staff is the most important aspect of a company and I’m surprised how many businesses completely miss this or just try to wing it. How much confidence would a customer have on a company if their 24 hour email support takes a week to reply?